Radke’s Auto Parts has been at 6666 N. Columbia Way in St. Johns, Oregon since 1933. The business started as a single gas pump ran by husband and wife Julius and Letha Radke. Through the thick of the depression Julius fixed cars to the best of his ability and vulcanized tires while Letha pumped gas, maintained the books and cooked. Living only a couple blocks away from the business, their sons Merlin and Ronald grew up working at the gas station. It was a family affair according to the abridged business history. Many members of the family pitched in their time and money when it was needed. Surviving through meager times, the boom of WWII brought workers to the nearby shipyard and business to the Radke’s. In the 1950’s the name was changed from Radke’s Auto Electrical to Radke’s Auto Parts. Father Julius attended trade schools to receive additional training and the family project boomed.
Sons Merlin and Ronald became interested in racing and decided to supply those needed specialty parts to their customers. Radke’s focus then changed from general automotive parts to “speed shop.” Here, it was not just about fixing the family car, but what parts were needed to make any vehicle a stone cold racer. Customers started to come great distances to shop at the “temple of speed.” Documents online refer to Radke’s for the “reputation of having parts known otherwise to be unobtainable.”
More than eighty years later the buildings still stand with the Radke name on it. Many a young racer and car enthusiast in the area have spent at least one afternoon haggling the counter men for prices and catalogs. Lamentably, Radke’s has announced, like most local speed shops, they’ll be closing the doors in the near future. This is a sad telltale marking the end of an era. Ordering speed parts online has been the contagion to businesses like this one and countless others. A pillar in their community, Radke’s doors will shut with history and dignity. It was not just a storefront, but a place where hot rod dreams became a reality. A true hearty American family story, the memory of Radke’s Auto Parts and the family that gave it life will be remembered fondly.
Julius in front of the gas station
Photos thanks to the Radke website and family.